Meet our future mathematicians and physicists

Meet Dr Ayreena Bakhtawar, Patrick Shawcross and Jake Rogers, our future mathematicians and statisticians

Meet Dr Ayreena Bakhtawar, Patrick Shawcross and Jake Rogers, our future mathematicians and statisticians.

Dr Ayreena Bakhtawar recently completed her PhD in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

“At school, we learn to identify Pi with the fraction 22/7,” says Dr Bakhtawar. “But this is just an approximation, not an exact value. While the difference may be small, the question is, ‘how do we study irrational numbers collectively to obtain accurate results?’”

Dr Bakhtawar’s thesis focused on improving a 200-year-old theorem to develop a finer approximation of irrational numbers.

“Mathematical research interest aside, developing this theorem will have real world application in areas like electrical engineering. For example, it is used in electronic communication to find reliable signal strengths,” she says.

Dr Bakhtawar has received an Honourable Mention for the Australian Mathematical Society Maryam Mirza Khani Award, the Australian Mathematical Society Lift Off Fellowship, and La Trobe’s Professor Edgar Smith Travelling Award. She is now a Research Associate at the University of New South Wales.

Patrick Shawcross is in his first year of our Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in mathematics and statistics.

“I am a professional, full-time firefighter. In November 2019, I accepted a transfer from Ballarat to Melbourne. Study has always been a big part of my working life in the fire service. I wanted to explore beyond this and challenge myself with further study. La Trobe’s Bundoora campus is close to where I live, so it was the obvious choice for me.

There is a lot of science in firefighting, so undertaking a Bachelor of Science degree was perfect. I am majoring in mathematics and statistics as it exposes me to a broad overview of science, and the fundamentals. I believe mathematics is ubiquitous, a universal language which is central to all of our lives. We can find it in everything from nature and biology, through to computers, economics and the arts. Learning mathematics and statistics allows me to become involved in broad-ranging scientific disciplines, and offers the potential to collaborate with diverse groups of scientists.

I am enjoying the challenge of further study and the privilege of interacting with a wide range of knowledgeable mentors and lecturers. There is a saying, “If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” Studying at La Trobe has put me in the ‘right room’, so to speak, so I can keep learning.

It has been very important for me to have flexibility when it comes to my work and study schedules. The resources and support services at La Trobe have been excellent, and the staff are engaging and supportive with any assistance requests.

I enjoy nature, and one day, when I graduate, I hope to have the opportunity to use my acquired knowledge and skills to conduct research on the Great Barrier Reef, or perhaps Antarctica. I am also a big cricket fan, and part of what I love about the game is the fascinating statistics it produces, so perhaps I can work in that field as well. I am a musician, and to me, music is mathematics in the form of sound. It’s both astoundingly simple, yet challengingly complex. I love that it is creative and beautiful, and that it can take you anywhere!”

Jake Rogers is in his third year of our Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in physics.

“I want to understand nature at a deeper and more fundamental level. When I was a teenager, I would read headlines about scientific advances being made around the world and felt completely blown away. There’s so much research being done that advances not only technology, but the way we see and comprehend the universe. I wanted to be a part of that, so I decided to pursue a tertiary degree.

Life intervened and I couldn’t complete secondary school or obtain an ATAR, which presented a significant hurdle to entering tertiary education. But, I discovered La Trobe’s Tertiary Preparation Program which has provided me with an alternative pathway to university. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study at the tertiary level.

I have enjoyed incorporating my passions and interests into my degree. I am completing a major in physics, but I have also taken some computer science and mathematics subjects as electives. And, I have had the opportunity to travel to Japan for a Nanotechnology Study Tour and engage with cutting-edge research at one of the biggest nanotechnology conventions in the world.

As part of my degree, I have also completed a research subject where I developed a simplified computational model of a high energy light beam. Computational models can require significant processing power, so my aim was to find aspects of the models which can be simplified, thereby reducing the computational load.

It is important that we understand how light behaves and interacts with matter, because we use light to understand everything from distant stars, through to what is happening in our body at the molecular level. I hope my research will help us refine our understanding of light and how it can be used to image matter.

The mathematical intuition I have developed by studying mathematics throughout my degree has helped me to understand physics, since the two are inextricably linked.

Mathematical models inform many aspects of physics, providing researchers with a strong indication of where and how to find empirical evidence. Many of the more theoretical aspects of physics rely heavily on derivations and proofs, which are key mathematical skills. My second-year vector calculus subject, for example, is helping me understand the third-year physics subject on electrodynamics. I believe mathematics enhances our knowledge of not just physics, but everything around us, so learning it is crucial.

My dream is to pursue research and write the kinds of articles I found so compelling as a teenager. So, when I graduate, I would like to enrol in a Master or PhD program and work as a scientist.”

Find out more about studying mathematics, statistics and physics, and the Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, on our website.